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Creators to curators – the ever-evolving role of the creative director

Advertising has changed, but has the creative director? In this series, Wunderman UK chief creative officer Ian Haworth explores the changing nature of the role in the modern media world.

Today’s creative directors need to do much more than creating. Now we’re as much curators of concepts, information, technologies and ideas that make the creative output perform better.

Our role as curators means we have to become modern day Medicis (just without the assassination attempts!). We have to know a little about a lot, becoming experts in everything and ensuring we understand how newer, forever-growing channels like AI, VR, social media and more all operate. We need to establish ourselves as trusted partners – which even means sourcing skills from outside the agency – that can be relied upon to ignite clients’ imaginations.

All of this means now we’re as much consultants as we are creatives. Gone are the days when you could put together a 30 or 60 second spot, with an accompanying display or print ad, and that was that. With the creative journey looking much less linear and much more diverse, we’re under increasing pressure to provide a wider range of skills and capabilities to our clients.

The creative director has gone from crafting work for one campaign, to creatively solving massive business problems for major clients. Even if it is not your area of expertise, it’s still your job to deliver to the client, act in their best interests and guide them through the process.

Why sometimes you have to be humble

The fatal mistake is thinking that you know a lot about a lot. You don’t. You’ll never be able to know everything, so you have to surround yourself with a team who fill in the gaps. Not necessarily the cleverest, weirdest, most unique people – you just need to cover all bases. Client briefs are so broad and you just can’t take it all upon yourself. By implicitly trusting your team, you build evolving, efficient creative partnerships. Learning is constant. There’s no time to stagnate.

When you’re backed up in this way, it allows you to curate and introduce this new business model to your prospective client. They see you and a massive supporting cast, ready to field any idea, pitch to any medium. They know you’re serious.

Because this expansion of the CD’s role is a good thing

It’s great, actually. It’s a challenge I enjoy. The toy box is bigger and that just means I have more to play with – I can dip in and out of various subjects, searching for a sweet spot. It expands the imagination. Helps you think bigger.

Because you need to. Everything from deep immersive content to short films, Snapchat to AI – it all falls under the CD’s remit, because the client’s expectations have widened. They know what’s out there and in order to best cater to them, you have to give them everything. None of that ‘under promise, over deliver’ nonsense – give them your all otherwise they’ll give you nothing.

Curating means you’re free to focus on the big idea, perhaps more than you could in the past

So, for me to focus on the 'big idea', I leave my team to ensure the actual product, as such, is delivered. I can trust them to realise an idea, no matter how ludicrously far-fetched it seems. Because the idea is the main focus. Sure, there are all these new channels to consider, and these labyrinthine client briefs we have to stitch around said channels, but it’s nothing without the idea.

Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you have to. Knowledge is power, and it’s vital to not over-do it in terms of you, the CD, in the traditional sense, having to be in control of everything. If you relinquish your grip in certain areas, you assume the role of this quasi-spectator, gaining a deeper understanding on the sidelines while still being involved. You know more. And you see through a lot of shit when you know more.

Ian Haworth is executive creative director at Wunderman